Liturgical Theology by Graham Hughes

(chapter 7 in Worship as Meaning: a liturgical theology for late modernity (Cambridge University Press; UK, 2003))

It took me 3 readings and several weeks of reflection on this chapter to comprehend it properly!  So not only did I want to share my hard work, Hughes’ wisdom is worth sharing.  He has great insight into the relationship between Worship and Culture.  So, here’s my 3 minute summary:

1.  Worship is always an interaction with culture.

“Human beings construct their meanings (a meaningful world) from the meanings culturally available to them.”

2.  Most of ‘primary sources’ for Christian worship were created in a world which is now foreign to us, which leaves us with a ‘meaning gap’ between the original intention and how we might make it meaningful to us.

 “How shall modern worshippers comprehend (‘grasp together’ into a meaningful whole) the world of meanings irreducibly part of a worship service and the world in which these same worshippers must negotiate the joys and perils of being human”.

3.  Frequently the creators of liturgy/worship don’t notice the gap because they have been thoroughly schooled in an ancient mindset through their theological and church education.

4.  Hughes identifies 3 different approaches in Modern expressions of worship to ‘closing the meaning gap’  (If you know it you’ll be reminded of H.R. Neibuhr’s Christ and Culture categories):

  • Church ‘liturigcal’ theologians – ignore contemporary culture
  • Conservative Evangelical – have a co-dependent relationship with culture
  • Mainline (liberal) Protestantism – have capitulated to culture
Liturgical Theologians have spent a lot of time on ‘liturgical renewal’ in the past century but it has been an exercise largely confined within itself, even though it might be motivated by context issues.  The biggest gain through this movement is in the construction of a thorough history of liturgical sources which are yet to be thoroughly engaged with questions of postmodern culture.
Evangelicalism has an inherent contradiction in that it defines itself by culture at the same time against culture.  The worshipper is required to enter into a fully constructed world in order to create meaning within the worship.  For example, the use of contemporary music is a familiar mode, stuff that you’d hear on the ‘secular’ radio, but it is  reinterpreted and reappropriated for a different meaning in worship.  To share the new meaning with the rest of the gathered community you need to buy into a whole new worldview.  This powerfully closes the ‘meaning gap’ in worship and deals with the existential need for meaning with a ‘complete package’ meaning system.  Liturgically, it seeks to claims supremacy over the previous centuries of Christian worship practice, yet fails to see that this merely weds it to a particular time and space (Modern Culture) thereby denying it’s ancient (and future) connections.  “How long does a form of worship remain Christian which untethers itself from Christian tradition so forthrightly as evangelicalism has?”
Mainline Protestantism is dominated by a positive view of human culture and theologically preoccupied with the Immanent dimension of God.  The difficulty is that in the quest for relevance God becomes too small and ‘ordinariness’ is easily misrepresented as sacred.  Protestantism is inextricably Modern and therefore subject to the same decline at the end of the Modern cultural period.
And so what does Hughes conclude about the task of curating worship after this analysis?
“What the case requires, therefore, is a theorization which is recognizable from within present-day presuppositions while not remaining ensconced therein; which is clear-eyed about our dependence on late modern cultural forms and at the same time works towards the relativization of these in the name of a theistic reading of reality.”
Two obvious questions for me in response:
a.  How does the charismatic renewal movement fit into this?  At what point does the Spirit just do what the Spirit does, over and above culture?
b.  How does the emerging movement fit into this?  There are some parts of the emerging worship that are adolescent reactions to Modern religion, but there are other mature expressions of worship which are a genuine attempt at Postmodern ways of being.

You can read the preview of Hughe’s book, including this particular chapter on Google Books.

Reformed & Always Reforming: A Postconservative approach to Evangelical Theology by Roger E. Olsen

(Michigan; Baker Academic, 2007)

When I discovered a friend of mine was reading a book I wanted to read but was beyond my present capacities, I suggest he might like to be a guest reddress blogger.  Given that Mick is a redhead it seemed quite appropriate, though he’s not known for donning dresses while reading theology!  Mick is more known for being a Meteorologist and Ethicist, particularly working on climate change issues with Ethos (Zadok/EA).  Thanks for sharing Mick, this is really interesting.

Once upon a time I was a reluctant Calvinist, a confused complimentarian, thought the only model of the atonement was penal substitutionary atonement, and thought I couldn’t be an Evangelical if I varied in these beliefs. I’ve long since shifted in many of my beliefs, and unashamedly so, but had stopped describing myself as Evangelical given its connotations with conservatism. Roger Olson’s Reformed an always reforming has restored my confidence with one adjective, postconservative.

According to Olson, postconservative Evangelicalism is more of a mood than a method. It is the dissatisfaction with the marriage of Evangelicalism with modernism despite its disavowal of it, and the lingering association with Fundamentalism. Conservative Evangelicalism (broadly speaking, being wary of overgeneralisation) is the quest for certainty in the face of modernism. A brief summary would describe it as: viewing the bible as largely propositional, seeing theology as a bounded set rather than a centred set with the goal of excluding (cries of heresy) rather than including, suspicious of innovation because it often elevates tradition (be it the Fathers, Ecumenical councils, Reformers or 19th c. Princeton), intent on building an indubitable foundation (Descartes style) for systematic theology, and a suspicion of experience as forming any meaningful part of theology. One can draw from this the (slightly unfair) conclusions that conservative Evangelicals don’t need the bible other than a source of proof texts for their systematic theology texts and that their Trinity is often reduced to Father, Son and Holy Scriptures.

Olson gives me hope in the term Evangelical because he sees it as reformed and always reforming. Focusing on Biblicism, crucicism, conversionism and activism, postconservative Evangelicalism sees tradition as important but not perfect. Its critical realist epistemology realises that all readings of Scripture, our norming norm are relative and local and in constant need of reform. There are core beliefs to be sure, but nuances change over time, with each generation under or over emphasising parts of theology. Constant rebalancing is needed. This focus on the bible, core beliefs, a more narrative approach to Scripture, and the inclusion of religious experience in the formation of theology (under Scripture) separates postconservative Evangelicalism from conservative Evangelicalism and its fear of change and development. John Piper’s rejection of the New Perspective on Paul with his preference for the Reformers and his grandfather’s gospel over a return to Scripture and the use of first century sources is an example of the elevation of tradition to form a rigid system that remains unchallenged. Likewise, David Wells’ rejection of any innovation such as open theism, inclucivism or the New Perspective as the influence of postmodernism represents the conservative blindspot that it is wedded to modernism, or at least tradition. For many, the Reformation stopped in the 16th century and God forbid any movement towards Catholics (hence Sproul’s Getting the Gospel Right). Postconservative Evangelicals are still Evangelical, and while sometimes sharing views with Postliberals, particularly the narrative view of Scripture and the idea of it as a drama to be played out by the church (for a brief and Evangelical articulation of this see Tom Wright’s Scripture and the authority of God), they differ from postliberals in their affirmation of the centrality of the Scriptures and their (largely) historical nature.

Olson’s book is a good review of some of the major postconservative thinkers, as well as those who are without identifying themselves as such, or sit at the boundary. He tries and (as far as I can tell) largely succeeds in his depiction of conservatives. An essential read for those thinking about reforming Evangelical theology.